In a few short years, Canada’s Whitney Rose has learned the guitar, written her first song, made an album and caught the attention of The Mavericks. On August 21st, the singer-songwriter will release her new record, Heartbreaker Of The Year, on Cameron House Records (via Redeye Worldwide). Infused with a decidedly old school feel, the album includes eight self-penned tracks as well as two covers that showcase Rose’s influences. Prior to the release, Rose graciously took the time to speak about her roots, as well as the album, including some stories behind the songs and more.
You grew up in Canada in a household where the music of Hank Williams, and old school pop like the Ronettes, was played. While a lot of kids listen to what their parents play, most eventually veer off and find their own style of music that they like. So, what drew you to this style of music, and what kept you there?
Good question. I think it’s the simplicity. I have always been, and still am, very much drawn to simplicity in all aspects of life. I grew up with my grandparents, who were playing Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. My mom was also in the house, but she played the popular music of day, like Whitney Houston, and I just much preferred what my grandparents were playing. I think that when music started to progress it became more complicated, and I didn’t like that. I like actual musicianship, not music being played by a computer. I can take it even further than that with say, chord progression. I like a good ole four chords, that’s enough for me. So yeah, I think my inclination towards that music is due to the simplicity of it.
Being that you were drawn to music early on, was it something that you have always wanted to pursue professionally?
I was singing my whole life, but I wasn’t gifted my first guitar until five or six years ago, and I didn’t attempt writing music until that point. I’ve been to five different universities, but never studied music. I’m a little bit of a nomad, moving around Canada and pursuing an undergraduate degree. I initially went to school for journalism, but soon found out that was not for me, and then I studied literature for most of my pathetic undergrad pursuits (laughing).
When I was gifted my first guitar, things really changed for me. I was doing a Judy Garland tribute show in Niagara Falls, and the producer took me to a Christmas party where Bob Egan, the pedal steel player from Canadian band Blue Rodeo, was providing the entertainment. A bunch of people there knew I was a singer and encouraged me to get up in between sets and sing a few songs, which I did. After that, Bob approached me and asked if he could have a recording of things I’d written. At that point, I had never even really contemplated writing my own stuff, so I told him that I didn’t have anything. He told me to write five songs and call him when I did; so that's what I did. We made a little EP together that has never seen the light of day, but from there, things really progressed. So I have Bob Egan to thank for me starting to write music.
Since then things seem to have progressed at a fairly rapid clip. Do you feel that way?
It never really feels like it at the time, I certainly have not seen any commercial success, but I’m very happy with where my career is right now. I feel like it’s been a bit of a slow build, but I really like that because I feel like I’m building a solid foundation and learning so much along the way. Overnight success sometimes isn’t always able to sustain itself, and I hope what I am doing leads to a more longstanding career.
Your music definitely has that timeless quality that lends itself to that type of career. Even with a slow build, you have been able to meet and befriend incredible artists, like The Mavericks. You toured with them in 2013 and 2014. Was that your first major tour?
Actually, my first major tour was with The Proclaimers. I spent two weeks with them, and after I got back, I got a call to open for The Mavericks on a one off in September. The rest of the tour with them came from that one gig. Getting to work alongside those guys was, and is, just amazing. That first night when I walked into their sound check, I was like a moth to a light. I was blown away; it was really magical. I’m very grateful they like me enough to take me along for a bit of the ride! It’s been life changing.
You must have made quite the impression. How did it come to be that Raul produced your record? Did he come to you, or did you seek him out?
I very much went to him. After the first gig we played together, we did an Eastern Canadian tour, and when I got home, I was offered the Western Canadian tour. By that point, I had enough material to make a record, and I very much knew who was my #1 choice was to make the record with. I called him, with very little expectations, and Raul ended up saying yes, which was one of life’s finer moments.
Absolutely, I can believe that.
There’s a lot of heartbreak on the record, and you sing about being smarter next time and choosing wisely. Do you write from personal experience, friends’ experience or are they off the cuff stories?
I guess what I like to write about most is people. I like to think that I am growing as an artist, which comes with age as well. Initially, I only wrote about myself, but the way I am writing now, and I am always writing, is that I tend to draw from people’s experiences, both people I know and people I don’t know. This is a whole new level of artistry that I’m really enjoying because, as a writer, I am very drawn to the human experience.
The songs all have experiences that can connect with the listener. One song in particular I wanted to ask about is “My First Rodeo.” What is the story behind that song?
I have always been fascinated by the concept of “firsts” in their many different regards. This song is really not limited to any single "first;" it could be a first heartbreak, a first kiss, or a first romp in the hay. It's about how powerful "firsts" can be, and how they can mold our future experiences.
There’s another very clever song, “The Devil Borrowed My Boots Last Night,” which I think can now become any woman’s new line when she does something out of character!
Thank you (laughing), we’ve all been there! I was talking to a girlfriend one day, and she had a crazy night out on the town. She said “I don’t know what or how these things happened, but it’s so not like me! It was like someone else took over.” The song kind of wrote itself from there.
You also include a Hank Williams cover on the record. Why that Hank song in particular, and why close the record with it?
I don’t know why, I just really love that song. It is one of the first songs I ever sang from start to finish and was a favorite when I was a toddler singing in my grandparents’ kitchen. I kept in touch with that tune through my whole life. When we were in the studio, I knew I wanted to do two covers and a big part of that was that I wanted to help my audience make sense of what my record was about. I did “Be My Baby” with Raul and then wanted to do an old country tune. We tried Merle’s “Swinging Doors,” but that didn’t work. Later, I brought this song to the table, and we started to work it out. Raul suggested singing it almost like a Roger Miller lullaby. So it became a lullaby, and being that it was so attached to my childhood, it made perfect sense.
How perfect for something to come full circle.
‘Heartbreaker Of the Year’ is a track on the record. How did you decide to title the album that?
Well, initially I was very against it as the title because the song itself is written from the perspective of the heartbroken. Then, on the cover, you have my invasive mug along with those words, making me appear to be a self-proclaimed heartbreaker. But I didn’t really have anything that was good enough to dissuade literally everyone who wanted to name the record that. The only thing I could come up with was 'Queen Street Cowgirl.' I thought of that title because the bar where I honed my live show is on Queen Street in Toronto, and the word cowgirl represented the album itself. But that idea was pushed away pretty quickly. Heartbreaker Of The Year is a catchy and cool title though, even if it is a little misleading.
It is pretty cool.
The album will be released in the states August 21st. Do you have any plans to perform here?
I will play at Americana Fest in September, which I am really excited about. We then have a few dates in the states the following week, and then it’s back to Canada. I am thinking about moving to the states later in the year…..just to give it a try.
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Pre-order Heartbreaker of The Year here